With 32 players in camp down in Palo Alto, the squad is significantly bigger than the crew which battled to a 1-2 record on the road portion of the Pacific Rim schedule. Several players who were injured or otherwise unavailable have returned, while several Harp League and national championship standouts and some promising collegians have played their way into the mix.
Most uplifting is the return of Tom Billups, whose scary neck injury against Hong Kong forced him to leave the tour early. With a negative MRI and full medical clearance, the USA's most-capped hooker is keen to resume. Meanwhile, wing Brian Hightower has recovered remarkably quickly from a pre-Canada training accident that fractured his cheekbone (Hightower helped the Gentlemen of Aspen to its national championship win this past weekend), but although center Alatini Saulala has started practicing again, he's still hobbling from the severe ankle sprain picked up while earning his first cap in Vancouver. Lock Alec Parker (knee) and Mike Stanaway (elbow) are struggling to prove their fitness, and have not yet come into camp.
Several players have shrugged off professional commitments. Fresh from capturing the US title in San Diego, Aspen prop Bill LeClerc and number eight Jason Walker rejoin the team for the first time since its January trip to Wales. High-scoring San Mateo wing Vaea Anitoni, who was available only for the Canadian match, is another welcome addition.
Sidelined during recent National Team assemblies by injuries and other concerns, Old Blue fullback Dan Kennedy and Belmont Shore lock Kyle Quinn earned their roster spots following strong Harp League showings and good performances during the national championship playoffs.
St. Louis Bombers prop John McBride and OMBAC flanker Mika McLeod join the US for the first time, as do three of the five collegians in Palo Alto. While flyhalf / fullback Kurt Shuman and halfback Kevin Dalzell are both capped players who have toured abroad with the National Team and also the All-Americans, hooker Kirk Khasigian and backrowers Don Younger and Scott Yungling are getting their first look at the program. It's likely, however, that the latter three will be released next week to attend the All-American trials camp in Colorado.
Among the veterans, lock Cliff Vogl, captain and number eight Dan Lyle, and wing Chip Curtis emerged from the road swing with the best grades. Much of the earlier group is here, but faces added competition for test spots. On the road last month, the US suffered two lopsided losses before posting an unlikely win over Japan, and now looks to take advantage of the Pacific Rim's notorious homefield advantage. The US victory in Osaka is one of just two away wins this season; last year, there were just two during the entire competition, neither of them by the US.
"Providing the previously injured players can prove their fitness, this will be a stronger squad than the one which was assembled for the Asian portion of the season," US head coach Jack Clark commented. "I believe it's critical that our home stand gets off to a good start."
Test Series '97 Player Roster